David Stern this, David Stern that, David Stern should quit, David Stern does squat.
While this might be Bill Simmons’ daily before-writing-about-the-lockout mantra, it shouldn’t be mine or anyone’s for that matter.
Yes, David Stern is the easiest person to blame for the lockout if you’re looking for cheap thrills. With (seemingly) the IQ of an above-average criminal mastermind Stern’s more than a lawyer or business manager. He’s basically a diplomat, judge, jury, executioner, PR manager, promotor, legal counsel and economist in one to the average humans eye. His omnipresence makes him look omnipotent in the NBA landscape, while obscuring the fact he’s but a mainframe in a very well built computer, thus putting the blame of every single screw up on him, even if it’s the power unit that went out.
This is why he’s bood throughout the draft. Everything that goes wrong is his fault in the public eye. Everything that goes right is credited to the superstars, the great owners or just the “beauty of the game.” While people who dig in more into the matter will certainly be quick to see how big of an impact Stern had on the NBA, the average Joe will still treat Stern negatively. After all he’s a smug lawyer and head of a multi-billion dollar industry, always bringing his employees down by instituting stuff like dress codes, or forcing respect for the officials down their throats. In the end, it’s almost impossible to call the commish a likable person, judging by his actions alone. Add his rather devious looks, his cold demeanor, his devilish smile and, unless you’re a fan of seemingly evil people, you’re not going to like this guy.
Perhaps this is why up to the lockout everybody loved Adam Silver. His appearance, his way of speaking and his enthusiastic approach to public functions are almost the opposite of what Stern brings to the table. When compared to a guy who seems like he’s one lost job away from being a lawyer to the worst scumbags of the world, Silver is a goofy, happy-go lucky young guy, seeking to save the NBA from his evil superior. Or so he was, until he took the mantle of “Lead Negotiator” in the lockout talks.
Now, as lockout talks fail to bring a solid deal to the table every week, Stern is still getting most of the criticism. What’s forgotten, is that although he can fine owners for their comments, he can’t change their will.
This is the source of the image problem Stern has throughout the lockout, the public’s unwillingness to accept that he’s not the alpha dog, that he doesn’t call the shots in the league, something that must come hard for people who have seen him dominate the business ever since the last lockout ended. What people also realize is that from all the people involved in these negotiations, the commissioner knows the consequences of losing game after game after game best. He knows how much money the league loses, and how much it hurts its stability and popularity. Does he really care for the owners case, or does he just want to appease them enough to get a deal done? Owners come and go, the league stays, and David Stern’s main concern might just be the health of the league.
The commissioner is put in a very hard position right here. On one hand, he has 29 guys expecting incomes, and expecting power over their employees, on the other side, he has 450 angry players, who have already sacrificed a lot of their future salaries just to make a deal done. If that’s not being between a rock and a hard place, I don’t know what is. Yet, despite all that, Stern has brought the two sides within striking distance of a deal. Of course, some credit has to go to Hunter and Fisher for appeasing the players, but I’m confident that he was the only reason for which some of the owners came down from their high horses. Have you noticed how perhaps the worst negotiating session of the last few months occurred when Stern left Adam Silver in charge of the talks in order to recover from a cold? Obviously he agreed with the premise of breaking up the negotiations in order to get the players to come down on the BRI, but I doubt he wanted the atmosphere to heat up as much as it did. While he was no angel in that regard (the infamous finger waving incident), he managed to keep the talks as emotionless as possible throughout this whole process, making only one major mistake; the twitter Q&A just before the players were supposed to vote on voting on his offer.
But does that mistake make him the bad guy in this lockout? I, for one, don’t think so. He got the players down to 50%, and managed to get the owners to agree to 50%. The ultimatums? They were obvious bluffs, something I that the players absolutely misread in my opinion. Stern was forced to play two sides at once, when coming out with the offer; the hard-line owners and the insulted players. He needed to make that offer to show the owners, that the players have actually drawn a line. The players instead, tried to retake momentum, perhaps making Stern’s job of persuading the owners to back off on the luxury tax penalties much easier. On the other hand, tomorrow might turn into another terrible moment in these talks, depending on the cool heads of both sides. And even with David Boies and Jim Quinn stealing Jeffrey Kessler’s thunder, there’s no doubt in my mind that nobody’s head will be cooler than David Stern’s.
Leave David alone, he’s not the Grinch we’re all looking for.